Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2019
On May 20, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and others reported that Xcel Energy, Inc. plans to seek a 10-year license extension for its old Monticello reactor, 35 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
Several crucial points were glaringly ignored by the radio report, including the fact that the reactor is 48 years old. MPR noted that with an extended license, Xcel could operate the reactor “10 years beyond the expiration of its current license”—a true statement, that is miserly with the facts.
Monticello’s “current license” is itself a 20-year license extension—expiring in 2030—which Xcel was granted in 2006. The reactor was designed, engineered, and built with parts intended to be retired in 2010. It has been operating beyond its design since Sept. 8 that year. If Monticello rattles, hisses, leaks, spews and vents along with making radioactive waste until 2040, it will then be 59 years old, nearly twice its intended retirement age. The Minneapolis StarTribune reported that in addition to its proposed 10-year extended license, Xcel executives will ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for “an option for 10 more years after that,” pushing the reactor’s dangerous make and model to its 69th year.
Monticello’s notorious design type was also ignored by the MPR news report which failed to mention that the reactor is a General Electric “Mark 1”—the same design, built by the same manufacturer, as the four reactors that failed catastrophically at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan on March 11, 2011. Fukushima’s red hot masses of melted metallic radioactive “corium” are still venting radiation to the air, and pouring radioactive cooling water into the Pacific, eight years after the disaster which resulted from the worst earthquake in recorded Japanese history.
Adding to the risk-taking at the 671-megawatt Monticello unit, are its power rate increases, which were also ignored by the MPR news story. In 1998, Xcel was permitted to boost its power output, allowing the company to run the reactor 6.3% hotter and harder. In 2013, in spite of its age, it was even permitted a second power rate increase, pushing the old jalopy an additional 12.9% beyond its originally licensed limit.
MPR’s report did make me howl once. On the air, the reporter noted that Xcel, Inc. had agreed to install additional solar and wind electric generation systems, and added that more solar and wind “is good for environmental groups.” Again, saying that environmental groups benefit is true, but like saying the surface of the sun is “hot,” it understates the case by orders of magnitude. More solar and wind power are good in general for everybody, and for all groups in general.